Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The President's Back and Forth on Nonprofits

I was pleased to see President Obama hold a special event at the White House to spotlight nonprofits engaged in innovative and effective programs. Earlier this year, the president created a White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, which is now working with a $50 million Innovation Fund that will, in the president’s words, "discover and evaluate the very best programs in our communities."

I was intrigued by his talk of "rigorously evaluating their outcomes" and "invest[ing] in those with the best results." We've heard this kind of general talk before so I'm hoping the end result is something substantive that can truly guide nonprofits and inspire people to get involved.

But what I'm really hoping for from the president is some consistency in his positions. Despite the event, the White House continues to press forward on its proposal to reduce the charitable tax deduction for taxpayers earning $200,000 or more annually.

AFP's eWire this week covers both the White House proposal and an alternate proposal being considered, but the bottom line is this: both will hurt fundraising during the most difficult giving environment the sector has experienced in decades. Demand for charitable services has increased exponentially as giving has gone down. It simply doesn't make sense to enact what amounts to a tax on charitable giving, even if it would apply until 2011.

AFP has issued a call to action, and I encourage everyone to contact their members of Congress and urge them to vote against these proposals. While we're excited about many of the president's ideas on philanthropy, these proposals are detrimental, and he needs to know where charities and fundraisers stand!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Action! Adventure! Philanthropy!

The Philanthropist—a new show about, in NBC's words, a "billionaire playboy-turned-vigilante philanthropist," debuted last night.

I didn't get to see it all of it, but in talking with AFP staff who did, we agreed that the show featured more Indiana Jones than Bill Gates. The lead character was shot at, bitten by a snake and arrested by both the local police and drug enforcement agents, all for trying to get a vaccine to a remote Nigerian village.

It was fun to watch at least. I enjoyed the lead actor, who puts enough gusto into being a playboy while having just enough acting chops to make his philanthropic motivations believable.

Nevertheless, it was so over the top that, on one hand, I can't believe many people would believe this was any sort of realistic depiction of philanthropists and how philanthropy works.

On the other hand, it would be great if the show at least referenced or spotlighted the actual strategic work and planning that goes into most philanthropy. But that probably wouldn't make for good television now, would it?

What do you think? Did you see the show? Much ado about nothing, or something to be concerned about?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

On the Road

I enjoyed some great meetings with AFP chapters in Tampa and Orlando last week. The primary topic of discussion was, of course, the economy and how organizations are faring.

It was a mixed bag: some members reported that their organizations are undergoing difficult budget reductions, while others, surprisingly, don't seem to be affected. And in the job market, there are definitely people seeking positions but for most of them, I didn't get the sense that they had been laid off from their jobs. Most were looking for change. Several attendees indicated that they owed their careers to AFP, which was really nice to hear. Both chapters have done some great work in Florida, and I salute the chapter leadership there.

I gave an ethics presentation in Orlando, which I always enjoy. I typically see some eye-rolling when I first start talking about ethics, but once you get into ethical dilemmas and topics such as donor intent, attendees become very intense and engaged.

As always, the most popular issue was percentage-based compensation. The AFP Ethics Committee gets more questions about compensation than all other issues combined. Our guidelines to the code contain some great examples of what is considered ethical and unethical in certain situations (compensation covers Standards 21-25), and remember that the Ethics Committee is always available to answer questions (Ethics FAQ) confidentially.

One idea I like to leave with members is that ethics is part of each of our organizations' story. In fundraising, we refer to telling our story. We want to let donors know who we are, what we've done and how we're going to help the community. But we often leave out a key component—the story that begins when money is given and ends when the money is spent on a program. What happens in that time between—how we steward the funds our donors give us—is a story of ethics. Adherence to ethics is a part of our organization's story that needs to be told, and the public is looking to us to tell it.

Friday, June 12, 2009


I found what I think are a couple of must-reads given the current giving environment.

First, following up on my last post about community, I found this real gem. It's a blog post from last year, but the advice is still right-on about investing in yourself. I suppose I could quibble with his use of terms and argue that it’s more important to invest in yourself than your "job" (as opposed to "career"), but the general sentiment is perfect. I've looked through some other posts on The Simple Dollar, and they look very interesting and quite apropos, so hats off to Trent, the author.

Second, I strongly encourage you to read this article by Susan Raymond, Ph.D., about the latest Giving USA numbers. Susan is the executive vice president of Changing Our World Inc. (note for transparency sake: Changing Our World sponsors AFP's Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy awards) Her analysis about what’s ahead for giving, especially the relationship between personal giving and employment levels, gives us all a lot to think about. Her advice at the end is especially cogent.

I hope you enjoy these, and let me know what you think. I'm off to Florida next week to speak at our Suncoast (Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg) and Central (Orange, Seminole and other counties) chapters, then Central Ohio (Columbus) the following week. The topics are ethics, trends and how to succeed in an uncertain world. I'll let you know how it goes. Until then, good luck with your cultivation and stewardship.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Lately, I've been thinking a lot about the value of professional associations and how to communicate that value to members and non-members alike.

Having read that, you're probably thinking two things. One, I need to get a hobby. And two, oh great, a marketing piece for AFP.

Let me just say that you're right. On both counts. Sort of. Bear with me a moment.

I probably do need a hobby apart from fundraising. And for obvious reasons, yes, I'm always interested in increasing the value proposition of AFP to the fundraising community.

But apart from that, I've been struck by the reaction of some fundraisers to the economic challenges that charities are facing. There seems to be this "batten down the hatches" philosophy that says if we can just focus on our jobs even more intensely and go back through every minute detail over and over again, we will get through this.

The problem with this strategy is that we tend to isolate ourselves. Success doesn't happen in a vacuum. Inspiration doesn't come from doing the same routine time and time again. Long-term success comes from learning new skills, keeping updated on trends and talking with colleagues about what's working (and what's not).

In short, success and inspiration come from—yep, here's the marketing aspect of my post—your professional community! But still, I can’t shake the feeling that this ISN'T just marketing. The bottom line truth is, challenging times are when you need to improve the most—precisely so you can overcome these challenges. Challenging times are when you need your professional association the most.

As president and CEO of AFP, I hope you'll make our association your community. But regardless, understand that now is not the time to isolate yourself in your job. We all will find individual success, but it will only ever be achieved through others, working with other staff, volunteers, supporters—and in many cases, a professional community that provides training, interaction and perspective when you need it the most.

What do you think? Where do you find your inspiration? Do you think AFP is providing you what you need to succeed? Let me know!